By Chad Jennings
Early in the season, when the Yankees were on a roll and gaining steam, their bullpen was yet again an obvious strength. It had been overhauled in the offseason, but it had depth and power. Andrew Miller had moved into the ninth inning, Dellin Betances had gotten past those early struggles, and even a guy like Esmil Rogers — who’d struggled in the past — had found a real groove as a potent long man.
Now we’re almost two months into the season, and the bullpen seems to be only two-to-three arms deep. Miller and Betances are a potent one-two punch at the end, and Justin Wilson has been good against lefties, but the rest of the pen is a combination of inexperienced rookies and underperforming veterans.
That much was on display last night when the top three guys were unavailable, and David Carpenter let a winable game slip away.
After pitching well as a setup man in Atlanta the past two years, Carpenter’s strikeouts are down and his walks are up. He’s also allowed three home runs, two away from matching his career-high for a season. Last night he gave up a groundball single that loaded the bases, then he walked in a run, then he allowed a sacrifice fly. He has a 1.44 WHIP.
Rogers hasn’t been any better. His good month of April faded into a bad month of May. The other two middle-inning arms are Chasen Shreve and Jacob Lindgren, a pair of rookie left-handers who haven’t really carved out roles. Lindgren’s pitched only once. Shreve has been mostly a mopup and long man.
“Shreve’s done a pretty good job,” Joe Girardi said. “Esmil is kind of a long guy. Lindgren’s young and you kind of want to bring him along slow, in a sense. Sometimes you’re forced into action. It was good to get him in the other day, but to have a really successful bullpen, you need everyone to contribute.”
The Yankees have built strong bullpens in recent years, and the risk of replacing Dave Robertson with Miller has largely paid off this season. It’s those middle relievers that have been tough to figure out. Eventually, Lindgren might develop into a force, but he’s new at this level.
Really, it’s Carpenter that’s been the most surprising. He’s been a dependable late-inning guy in the past, but he never really carved out a role early this season, and he’s done nothing to suggest he can handle key innings lately. He seemed to be a key part of the Yankees plan — kind of this year’s Shawn Kelley — but he just hasn’t pitched well.
“Just trying to get out there and get used to your surroundings,” Carpenter said. “It’s a new team, a new way of being used. Other than that, it’s just trying to go out and execute. That’s been part of the problem. I haven’t exactly been executing.”
The Yankees need that to change, or they need to find someone else who can do the job. Chris Martin is about to begin a rehab assignment. Branden Pinder has pitched well in limited opportunities. Guys like Nick Rumbelow, Diego Moreno and Danny Burawa are waiting in Triple-A.
“Guys have got to get it done,” Girardi said. “That’s what we’re asking them to do.”